Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all. We were unsuccessful in finding a cheap christmas tree and I didn't want to spend over $20 for the pitiful chinese plastic trees offered everywhere so I finally decorated our aloe vera plant (in the center of the picture) with the one ornament we have. It's a pretty low key Christmas. Vanessa is taking the picture and agreed to have santa sit in her place. There's not much else going on, and it doesn't feel very much like Christmas besides in the Bab Touma Christian quarter where there are a lot of christmas lights up, but we don't live there. We'll just hang out Christmas eve and day around home and sleep and make figgy pudding. We bought Alexa five dollars worth of toys at a dollar store in Lebanon, and one of her new toys is a snoopy phone that plays "boom boom boom I want you in my room" over and over. While in the house in Lebanon she was attacked two nights in a row by mosquitos and has 15 mosquito bites on her face and some of them have infected and she really looks like she has the plague. On the bright side though, when going around town everybody recoils from her in horror when they come up to kiss her, so Vanessa is planning on painting them on after they heal to keep all the strangers at bay.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Flat and Proud

Only in Lebanon will you see an ad like this, compared to most Arab countries where this ad would probably cause riots of burning TV's and protests, it goes to show you how different Lebanon is from the rest of the Arab world. Just got back from a wonderful trip there where we stayed with the family of a friend of Vanessa's that she met while working in south africa this summer and they turned out to be a wonderful Druze family that live on Jebel Lebnan in a house that is still all shot up from the civil war (their particular house was shot up by a US destroyer off the coast). Besides having no heat, being full of some strain of mosquito that can thrive in freezing temperatures, and being without power 4-6 hours a day, it was great. From what I experienced, Lebanon almost doesn't belong in the Middle East it feels so European, and parts of Beirut in particular feel like a modern european city (minus the old buildings here and there that are full of bullet holes), except that people speak Arabic. Or barely Arabic, their dialect is so chock full of english and french. It's like there are degrees of coolness, and each Arab country I go to I think they are the really cool Arabs, then I go to another one and the people I used to think were really cool seem really low-class. I started in Egypt, then went to Syria, then Jordan, then Lebanon, like rungs of a ladder the stereotypes are already setting in my head.

We rented a car and for 8 days set out early in the morning and toured around a certain area and then came back to the home base in the evening for dinner. I think we saw just about every major site there was to see considering you can drive from the northern to southern border in about 4 hours. We went south into Hezbullah country, Sidon* (star indicates very nice), Tyre, North to Byblos*, Tripoli, East to Qadisha valley (becharre*),And Bekaa valley (Baalbek*), West to Druze mountains (Deir al-Qamar, Beit al-din*, the cedars), straight up on the telefreaky gondola ride up to the top of Jouneh-Harissa*, and straight down into the Jeita grotto caves* (best caves I've ever seen in my life, part of them you take a boat into), making side-trips and whatnot. And of course one has to spend a few days getting to know Beirut. The restaurants, malls, new buildings, people with money, war-scars, eclectic shops, all make it fascinating just to walk around in. We got and insiders tour and saw places and things that made me feel like I was at times in New York or Rome or Paris, but never in the middle east.

Despite being somewhat eletist and full of themselves, I was really impressed with how open minded and educated most Lebanese were, but also couldn't help but notice thier amazing good looks - they've somehow hit the genetic jackpock with thier mix of phonecian/ greek/ french/ arab/ turkish/ whatever, because I've never seen so many good looking people in my life. There are also an incredible amount of foreigners there, I mean who knew until the war last year when Australia had to suddenly evacuate over 5 thousand Australians, and canada 10 thousand, and France 20 thousand, etc, etc, that there were that many foreigners there?
Of course most people thought we were crazy for going to lebanon right now because of the assassinations/ explosions that take place every few months, but beirut is so big, and the assasinations so targeted, that it is really just as safe as anywhere else if you ask me. Considering the crime rate is just a small fraction here than that of any large US city, you are more likely to get killed in DC or LA than in Lebanon. It's so funny to me how people here hear about the crime rate in the US and are afraid to travel there, and Americans hear about some explosions "somewhere" in the ME and are afraid to travel there. Probably just as well for both of them.

Prices for everything were so high we weren't able to buy a lot, although we did manage to buy a 200$ maclaren stroller for Alexa because the new one we bought her in Syria fell apart. She also learned to walk while in Lebanon - hooray. Now back to Christmas in Syria... :(

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The picture to the left is sunset at the citadel in the old city. That's where we actually live, inside the ancient walls of a castle, in a tent, on top of a camel. In case you were interested.

So I was blowing barbucas yesterday with Alexa (half spanish-half english word for bubbles) when three bubbles floating in the air suddenly all floated together and became one bubble. It blew my mind for the rest of the day. Otherwise it's just been studying and reading the required 50 pgs a day of Arabic novels. Vanessa has been hanging out with a new circle of friends from Spain and Alexa loves playing with the other kids. There is also a neonatal conference hosted at the University sponsored by the LDS church and I've been helping out touring the doctors around town. I find it's always more fun showing people where you live than actually living there. Everyone in Syria was holding their breath for about a week when the Lebanese elections fell through, but things look like they are going to hold and so we'll probably spend at least part of the christmas holiday in Lebannon. Below is thanksgiving with the Morgans.

We went to an art show the other day in Mezze and it was really pathetic, only about two small rooms with some really mediocre paintings. It is the best of the three or four galleries in town which are perpetually deserted. It brought to mind how lacking the cultural scene is in Syria (and the Middle east in general). People just don't care about anything outside of money, sex, and food. I guess that could be said for most of the world, but.... I really like Syria, but there is a dearth of cultural life here, there is nowhere to dress up and go out to - the few plays in town are usually really amateur Egyptian or Iraqi plays and poorly attended (we went to one on opening night and there were about 30 people in a huge empty auditorium), nobody you ask can name an artist or even tell you what the last book they read was, there is almost no live music, art shows, plays, exhibits, book signings, etc, and the few events that do come to town are usually attended by mostly foreigners and a few rich Syrians who have lived abroad. Cairo is a bit more happening than Damascus, but for a city of 10-15 million it still has less cultural life than a small city of 10-15 thousand out in midwest America. Why is that?